He Doesn’t Look Disabled.

How many times have those of us with hearing loss been told that we don’t look deaf, whatever “looking” deaf means. It’s hard enough to make people recognize invisible disabilities. but today’s New York Times has an Op-Ed that suggests it’s okay to question the disabled status even of someone with visible disabilities.

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In “The Truth About Harvey Weinstein’s Walker,” Jasmine E. Harris, a professor at the law school of the University of California, Davis, argues that the “‘aesthetics of disability’ produce visceral responses in jurors and the public that can lead them to be more (or less) sympathetic when weighing a defendant’s liability, public responsibility and, in the end, punishment.”

While not outright accusing Weinstein and his attorneys of manipulating a perception of disability, Ms. Harris does say conclusively that this has been done by others: “Or the truth might be that he, like many others before him, will hope the benefit of disability aesthetics will help him in the courtroom.” (Italics mine.)

Readers quickly picked up on his rumpled clothes and slippers as further proof of his phony disability, but don’t forget that Weinstein seemed to spend much of his time in a bathrobe even in so-called business meetings. (I have zero sympathy for Weinstein, so don’t misconstrue my argument.)

Weinstein may be exaggerating his inability walk unaided, but I’m shocked that a professor of  law would suggest that we doubt someone’s else’s disability. It’s hard enough for those with disabilities to get the aid and services they need — or even a seat on the bus or the subway — without someone with Ms. Harris’s credentials suggesting that it’s okay to question someone’s right to their disability status.

It may be a clever legal strategy, but it undermines the credibility of all people with disabilities. Truthfully, I don’t think this was Ms. Harris’s intention, but it certainly lends itself to the argument that, like the welfare queens of the ’60’s, some people with disabilities just want favored treatment.

For more about living with hearing loss, read my books, available at Amazon.com and maybe at your favorite bookstore or library. If it’s not there, ask for it!

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8 thoughts on “He Doesn’t Look Disabled.

  1. Excellent commentary, Katherine. It points up the ever present paradox: I want to treated normally AND occasionally I need special consideration. This is difficult to personally manage and I suspect at times downright confusing to others.

    Whatever opportunity we have to consider the apparent disability of someone else, we can’t loose by being kind, even if time proves our kindness was misspent. Then, there is the position that kindness can never be misspent. That’s one I need to practice.

    Weinstein’s pathetic tennis ball equipped walker just begged to be questioned. But that’s only one of the many aspects of his life that will be questioned. I can understand being a tad weak-kneed in his situation.

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  2. Conceal or reveal, that is the question for hearing hopeful people.
    Admit or deny! How do you go against the tide of hearty hearers, or seeming so.
    Acceptance or rejection, that is the question and so we try to be understanding of the two-sides of this relationship, as the burden of proof is less visible to one end.
    Hard choices!

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  3. I understand your concern, as we have all seen people with hidden mobility disabilities improperly questioned (such as my friend with lung problems), but I would compare this situation more to the abuse by people claiming untrained or inappropriate pets are emotional support animals on airplanes. When people abuse rights that are for legitimate people with disabilities, it hurts legitimate requests for accommodation. Here, the obvious concern for “theater” makes this a legitimate commentary. Especially the robe and slippers which even very disabled people don’t wear to court.

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    • I totally agree with you about emotional support animals. It makes me furious!
      As for the robe and slippers, that seems to have been his daily wear even before he was arrested, but who knows. What a horrible man.

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  4. The robe and slippers beside being “his normal wear” make me think of the Mafia Don in NY who went around in robe and slippers for years (including “trial ware”) trying to give the impression of diminished capacity for an insanity plea.
    Les Greenberg N-CHATT trainer

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